Why they can’t Coexist….

Found this on Facebook. Just wanted to transcribe it here, partly because a friend couldn’t clearly see the text on Facebook ūüėÄ
Why they can't coexist meme image

Why They Can’t Coexist. Original, apparently from Truth-Saves.com.

The texts of [Christianity], [Islam] and [Judaism] order the elimination of [equality], [paganism], and of each other. Both [Islam] and [Christianity] claim to be religions of [Peace], but [Peace] is a world without [Islam] and [Christianity].

[Islam] and [Judaism] have conflicting promises of land ownership. [Paganism] is a very broad term but all of [Paganism] support living by non-evidence-based-claims, causing conflicts for [Peace]. [Taoism] says to find harmony in everything, good or bad, preventing the seeking of [Peace] and [Equality]. The less a self-proclaimed follower of [Christianity], [Islam] or [Judaism] actually follows the teachings of [Christianity], [Islam] or [Judaism] the more [Peace] and [Equality] can thrive.

[Christianity], [Islam] and [Judaism] claim their way is the only way and cannot coexist with anyone. [Taoism] can only coexist with the [Pagans] who also follow [Taoism]. [Equality] can coexist with most of [Paganism]. The only ones that allow for completee coexistance with each other are [Peace] and [Equality], and the unmentioned [Atheism] and [Humanism].

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The problem with the new atheist movement is…

I had a short conversation with a good friend yesterday which consisted of him (an atheist) telling me that the problem with the atheist movement is that they don’t provide an alternative option to replace the role that religion has fulfilled in our society for so long.

I often have atheist friends tell me that the new atheists are doing it wrong. That they should be doing X other thing instead of what they are doing, or that they should also be doing Y, or that they are wasting their time because some particular philosopher destroyed the notion of God hundreds of years ago, so this is all old news.

All of these sorts of criticisms of the new atheist movement strike me as exceedingly odd.

It is like claiming that climate change activists are doing it wrong because they aren’t personally replacing the coal and petroleum industry with an alternative energy infrastructure. It is like claiming that websites like Skeptical Science are a waste of time because climate scientists have known for decades that climate change is caused by humans. I never heard climate change advocates making these arguments because it is obvious that they are nonsensical. The alternatives exist independent of the activists, and the scientific consensus isn’t reflected in public opinion – therefore the activism is still needed! The atheist movement is no different.

So, when I hear that the new atheists should provide an alternative structure to religion, I think: No, that already exists. It comes from philosophy (morality), science (explanations of the world), sports teams, family, hobbies groups, etc (community). The atheist agenda isn’t to transform society – it is simply to fight for representation in a society which has clearly declared that non-belief is unacceptable, untrustworthy and to be despised.

My understanding is that the atheist movement as we currently know it was basically started by Dawkins giving this TED talk. I think he very clearly outlines why we need this movement, and what its objective is. And I agree completely with him.

Religions cause people to make decisions which harm themselves and people around them, and they do so because they believe that the creator of the universe commands it. They don’t do it because they are intentionally trying to harm people, or because they are necessarily biggoted – they do it because the book commands it.

Yes, there is overlap. Yes, sometimes bigoted people will use the bible to justify their bigotry (as if that is much better), but just as often people will be bigoted just because they believe that the creator of the universe has commanded them to be!

How do you rationally argue against that?

You can’t. You literally cannot make a single argument against “I have to be a bigot, because the creator of the universe has told me that I must behave this way.” The basis of the position is not founded on rational thought – it is founded on authoritarian command. Therefore the only way to correct the erroneous bigoted position, is to undermine the authoritarian command itself. You have to show that the belief in the commander is false. It is the only viable option.

Let’s make this¬†crystal clear. At the very same party where this criticism of the new atheists took place, another good friend pointed out that she was a feminist prior to discovering christ herself and becoming a true believer. In doing so, despite it going against everything she felt and believed, she knew that because God was real and because the Bible was his true word, she must submit herself to her husband, she must see gay people as sinners, and other such commanded positions. These were not positions she wanted to hold – it was just what the bible very clearly told her.

Multiply that experience across the population, and you now have a basis for terrible laws and government policy which leads to vilification and sexism.

Or, lets look at another example of religion doing harm. As I write this article a news story is running about a Jehovah’s Witness family denying their son a blood transfusion. This will kill their son. Do you think they actually want their son to die? Do you think they have some sort of weird bigotry against blood transfusions?

No. They just believe that the creator of the universe has commanded them to do this, so they are obeying the command.

You cannot rationally argue against this position. You can only rationally argue against the underlying belief in a universal creator and master.

And that is what the atheist movement is all about. Fixing the actual problem.

For too long religion has influenced politics, law and social convention despite evidence. And as the “Nones” have grown in number over the decades, their influence has stayed non-existent. This is the problem. This is what the atheist movement cares about.

If you¬†too are worried that the atheist movement might be wildly successful, and leave devastation in their wake as millions of people wake up without religious structures to prop up their meager existence – then go and start your own Humanism Organisation which provides everything religion does, just without the God stuff, and fill that gap. Just don’t be surprised when you find out¬†people are surprisingly capable of filling the gap all on their own with the innumerable other options which already exist.

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Response to “Another reason to cut back on soda” by ConsumerReports.Org

Someone sent this article my way on account of how much Coca Cola I drink:

Another Deadly Reason Why You Should Stop Drinking Soda

Yes, I know Coke isn’t a healthy option, yes I should drink less,¬†but no, this chemical is probably not the reason.

First of all, lets do a quick search¬†of the chemical, and find its wikipedia page and quickly and easily see that…oh dear me…this chemical is present in grilled meat, roasted food, dark beers, coffee and potentially numerous other foods which aren’t soft drinks! We better stop eating and drinking everything just to be safe!

Or maybe we don’t need to worry…. Looking at the actual study which gives 4-MEI its “Potentially carcinogenic” status, the results are not clear. I think this is why they use the word “Potentially”..??? The study looked at 50 male and 50 female rats and mice, and found:

no evidence of carcinogenic activity of 4-methylimidazole in male rats exposed to 625, 1,250, or 2,500 ppm

equivocal evidence of carcinogenic activity of 4-methylimidazole in female rats

clear evidence of carcinogenic activity of 4-methylimidazole in male and female mice

So… are humans more like Mice, or Rats? Or, when it comes to this chemical, are we completely different?¬†The mixed results make it hard to know whether we have variation due to species, or whether the 100 were not enough to absolutely determine the effect of the chemical.

Basically, all we can derive about its carcinogenicity for humans from this study is: “Fuck knows. Could be. Probably should study it more.”

So, unless you want to start restricting every ‘potentially carcinogenic’ chemical from your life (breaking news: oxygen is potentially carcinogenic), you’re going to have to accept that life is carcinogenic, and you should really be only concerning yourself with the ones we actually know about (asbestos, high doses of radiation etc). Just deciding that other things are carcinogenic, and avoiding them, won’t actually help you live longer.

Even if we tie the chemicals in question to the scary scary subject of “soda drinks”!!!!

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Perception of Victimhood vs Reality

I’ve been struggling lately with the¬†concept of allowing someone’s personal negative experience¬†to give that person a free pass to interpret aspects of that experience however they wish, regardless of the factuality of those interpretations.

To provide a clear example, imagine a mother struggling with a severely autistic child, and blaming that autism on the MMR vaccine. The evidence is quite definite that MMR cannot cause autism, so the conclusion reached by the mother is simply false, but because the mother is in an emotionally difficult position, are we meant to placate her and say nothing? Are we meant to ignore that falsehood being perpetuated by her in order to not upset her already difficult life and emotional state?

Isn’t it condescending to think that someone can’t handle being corrected just because they are upset?

Of course, no one ever likes being corrected, and there seems to be a strong social trend towards NEVER UPSETTING ANYONE EVER, which seems problematic to me at the best of times.¬†I mean, where is the emphasis on harm minimisation when we don’t dare correct someone who is spreading falsehoods which could cost lives? Just because someone ‘feels’ like doctors can’t be trusted, and we should all listen to some online health guru who espouses natural treatments to a range of medical conditions including cancer, does that mean we should sit by idly and let them misguide other people? What if that person has cancer themselves?

It definitely seems to be the socially accepted method. Don’t say anything to upset anyway. And definitely don’t say anything to upset anyone who is already in a difficult position.

I think this gets worse too, when people start imagining personal assaults where none exist. The most extreme example of this would be the cliche schizophrenic, who sees secret agents spying on them where the reality is just regular¬†people on the street. This person could be incredibly upset by the constant harassment they are experiencing at the hands of the “NSA” or whoever, and thus would expect the same social grace to not have this absurd belief challenged.

That is the most extreme example, but like all mental extremities, all people exist somewhere on a spectrum, and we all project our mental focuses onto our world. This Key and Peele skit makes the point quite nicely I think:

Of course, not all people who interpret neutral events as personal attacks are actually¬†“assholes” as this video puts it, but I think this sort of projection of persecution fears is more common than we think. And I think we are at risk of letting them become the norm, and having a world with too many false-incidences. ie:¬†A population of people under assault from no one but themselves. Rallying together friends to support them in their time of need, against nothing but a personal interpretation of events.

It seems like that would take an awful lot of energy and resources to fight against an imaginary enemy.

I think we have enough genuine problems and real scourges without creating an army of imaginary ones too.

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The (almost) utopian world of the conspiracy theorist…

The world of the extreme conspiracy theorist must be an amazing place. Wars don’t kill innocent bystanders, terrorist organisations either don’t exist, or lack the ability to execute acts of terrorism, mentally disturbed individuals don’t¬†ever go on murderous rampages, illnesses never happen¬†when people are left in a natural state, and everyone gets on with each other perfectly….

If only it wasn’t for Them.

Them. The ones pulling the strings to undermine this perfect utopia of healthy cooperation which naturally exists.

The government. The Illuminati. Aliens. Who it is who controls the media, false flag operations and international ‘accidents’ is hard to say exactly, but they definitely exist, and they are preventing us all from living our perfect lives of contended happiness and compassion.

Welcome to Conspiracy Theorist Utopia (CTU)

Wars Can’t Harm Innocent Civilians!

They fabricate planes full of people exploding in the sky through elaborate plans carried out over several months¬†with the participation of¬†numerous nations in order to create the illusion that war kills innocent civilians of even wealthy countries! Because in our perfect utopia, planes can’t crash into the ocean, and pilots can’t be suicidal… or more importantly, some accidents can’t possibly go unexplained. No, in CTU, every event has a deliberate cause and must be explained, and it is all connected to acts by some incredibly powerful and controlling force (probably not¬†God though – that is religion, and this isn’t religion).Planes can’t crash or go missing, and other unrelated planes definitely can’t be shot out of the sky by rogue militarised forces with weapons specifically designed to shoot planes out of skies.

What sort of a world would that be, where human beings would willingly shoot planes out of skies? A horrible one. And in CTU, everything is perfect and nice and friendly. Except for Them.

Terrorist Organisations Don’t Exist, or They Are Harmless

And the idea that a large organisation of people like Al Qaeda might exist, is completely unacceptable in CTU. People who have had their lives upturned by continual war and conflict between foreign nations, which have used them to fight each other, funding the warfare, providing weapons and training, then leaving them with nothing. The idea that these people could exist, and that they could hate our nations. Hate us. And then use that training, and that hate to organise an attack against us…. simply doesn’t make¬†as much sense in CTU as our own government fabricating hatred of our people in order to justify the fabricated attacks that they made, with notreallyplanes on the buildings which were actually demolished with thermite anyway…..

Yes. Convoluted inside jobs carried out by the thousands of people it would have taken to carry it out, all of whom have friends and families in the USA, many of which would know people killed in the attack and affected by the outcome of the attack is far  more likely than a foreign organisation driven by past hatred actually attacking the nation it sees as its enemy.

Disturbed Individuals Don’t Ever Go On Murderous Rampages

Another highlight of CTU is that disturbed people never go on murderous rampages. All events which involve mass shootings are fabricated events set up by them to create  a public backlash against gun rights, so that they can start taking guns back off the american population. Which they will start doing any day now!

So all of those mass shootings weren’t really done by civilian,¬†mentally ill or troubled people. No they were done by trained operatives or government agents of whoever it is that works for them.¬†And all of those people crying over their dead children and loved ones? Crisis actors. In CTU, people don’t actually die. They just pay people to pretend they have lost loved ones so that the general population falls for the trick of believing that people might die when they are shot with guns…

We Are All Perfectly Healthy…

Not only do people not die when they are shot with guns (or gun shootings simply never happen – however you want to look at it), but we’re all perfectly healthy…well, we would be, if it wasn’t for those evil pharmaceutical companies, evil lying doctors who should know better, fluoride in the water, chemicals in the air from chemtrails, poisons in vaccines, man-made diseases and the genetic manipulation of our food…. we would all be perfectly healthy and never suffer from any form of illness.

They are constantly raining sickness-causing agents upon us all to make sure we stay docile and controllable. Nature doesn’t have any flaws, and humans are of course designed to be perfect and immortal in their natural state. Cancer obviously couldn’t exist if we were left to our natural state – so it must be a manufactured illness through ‘toxic’ chemicals being pushed onto us so that the pharmaceutical companies can make money from our suffering. AIDS is a created disease. Vaccines only hurt us, and don’t even stop the illnesses they are meant to stop – they are stopped by simple hygiene and eating well!

The New World Order

The perpetrators of all of this misery are an incredibly well organised group of people who control everything from large corporations, to independent research institutes, virtually every scientist on the planet, nearly all of the politicians, public servants.¬†They are the ultra-wealthy ultra-elite and despite their ability to control so many people in so many countries and industries and affect virtually everything – they want to destabilise the entire system and bring it down to its knees…so that they can have…more… extreme wealth and extreme power… than …

OK, this just makes zero fucking sense.

I get it. It is nice to think that random tragedies are somehow orchestrated and controlled… but they just aren’t. Not usually anyway. I can’t say that none of the tragedies of the past 100 or more years haven’t been manufactured or taken advantage of in some way, but for the most part, there is no need to manufacture a complicated conspiracy to explain shit which just happens all the time.

Planes crash! They do! You don’t have to make up convoluted stories to explain and justify it every time it happens.

Innocent people die in wars all the time. And not all wars are just, or justified. They are just a consequence of our flawed psychology.

People do go on shooting sprees. This is just a fact of life when you have a population of 300+ million in a country with just as many guns – it only takes 1 in 300 million to decide to shoot into a group of people for it to happen! It is actually surprising it doesn’t happen more often!

People get sick! As a matter of fact, people are getting less sick and living longer now than ever before in history – you just need to look at the actual stats to understand this instead of imaging some idyllic past where everyone lived in perfect health all the time! There is no evidence of that ever being the case, and¬†even with endless piles of web pages telling you how you too can live sickness free by just avoiding XYZ and only eating ABC, we still don’t see any of the people following those regimes actually being illness free! Because they’re all bullshit.

How about we start dealing with the tragedies of this world as they are, rather than trying to solve non-existent riddles and causes which complicate them unnecessarily?

Things might actually start getting better….

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Making enemies out of allies

I learned something this week. I learned that I was wrong when I thought that the following image was hilarious, and an effective parody of a ridiculously untenable position held by some moronic members of the US congress. I was wrong to laugh at it and wrong to think it a useful public statement, because instead of finding humour in it and understanding its intent, I should have been outraged.

we should ban life jackets rape analogy funny joke haha

I should have been outraged at how this “joke” makes light of the serious nature of drowning. Do the makers of this joke not care that 10 people die of drowning every day? Do they think that is funny!?!? Are they ignorant of this fact, or do they just not care?

You might try to tell me that I am over-reacting. That they aren’t really¬†making fun of drowning, but are just using it as tool to make a point.

That doesn’t matter, because as someone who has suffered from two near-drowning events in my life, let me tell you that I personally find this image incredibly offensive. I could have died to drowning. Proper real end of life actual death…and you think that that trauma is irrelevent? You think I should have to spend the rest of my life letting people make light and “fun” out of something which really did happen to me and was traumatic? How about instead of that, everyone else on the planet stops being so insensitive!?!

I also learned that I should imply that the creators of this image are active representatives of whatever organised community they are part of, and imply that that whole community are anti-drowning-safety. Because if you find this image funny, then you basically drown children.¬†There are no half measures when it comes to this sort of thing, you are either as outraged as I am that some “comedian” makes light of an issue as serious as drowning kids, or you drown kids.


OK, enough stupidity and hyperbole. Yes, I was exaggerating, but this is how I feel when people react to a “#grapeculture” joke made by someone talking about a good night out with friends having drinks (presumably, wine, which is made from a “grape culture“)

#grapeculture tweet outrage

So when someone¬†not included in the (publicly visible) conversation decided to take offense at the use of the #grapeculture hashtag and invite herself and her opinion, outrage and judgement ¬†into it, I couldn’t help but feel very quickly like the whole thing became a parody of the very thing the joke was making fun of.

Despite the initial reaction of @vitabrevi which was to imply that @rjblaskiewicz and @cherryteresa  thought that rape itself was funny, it seemed quite clear to me that the tag was (at the most) a parody of people who use hashtag activism to accuse people of perpetuating rape culture. ie: it is no wonder vitabrevi felt attacked by the joke, it was probably aimed at people like her. But the shocking thing is that she bit. She bit with all of her might, accusing @rjblaskiewicz of supporting rape, misogyny and representing the entire skeptic community. Is there any world where that is a reasonable reaction to a #grapeculture joke?

How is it any different to my hyperbolic example above, where I claim that I should get desperately offended by the maker of this life jacket joke, and accuse them (and any communities they represent) as being supporters of people who enable the drowning of children?

This is why I made the reference to 4chan raids which aim to make the feminist movement look moronic by taking ridiculous positions and claiming to be feminists. I wonder if @ViteBrevi isn’t one of the, because if she isn’t, everyone can tell 4chan that they need not bother, some people¬†are doing a fine job of making the movement look moronic all on their own.

And this upsets me.

The feminist movement is bloody important. Fighting the rape culture which is present in our society is incredibly important to me. But instead of actually doing that, we have counter-productive people¬†out there claiming to be¬†feminists¬†who are busy sticking their nose in other people’s conversations, interpreting jokes to meet a pre-defined outrage sore-point, projecting their own suffrage on those comments, and inciting outrage and attack in their friends and colleagues. All to what end? All it does is make enemies out of friends.

I’ve met the people @VitaBrevi was attacking with her projected victimhood and offendedness. They are NOT the people we need to deal with. The people we need to deal with are abundant enough without picking fights with allies. The #grapeculture guilty are allies where it matters. They are feminists and want equal opportunities and freedoms and rights for people independent of sexuality, race and gender. But¬†apparently being an advocate and champion of equality and a progressive society isn’t enough – they have to be super-sensitive to every possible sensibility that every person on the planet might have. They have to double check their language at all times, and avoid ever making jokes which might trigger traumatic events from the pasts of people they have never met nor talked to.

How about instead of that, people take responsibility for their own lives and emotional states (which may or may not include getting help from friends, family or trained professionals)? I’m not saying “suck it up”, I’m saying that we all have to take responsibility for our own lives, and that most certainly does not involve forcing the rest of the world to behave a particular way.

accept responsibility
Expecting the word-part “rape” (as in Grape) to be forever out of bounds as a tool in jokes is literally the sort of thing that fascists¬†actually do. It is the core control mechanism in the book 1984: Control the language, and you can control the people. I am all for ending rape culture., but I want no part in ending our ability to use words, or our ability to find humor in things – even the morbid or the upsetting. (not that this even was – it was a joke at the (slight) expense of people doing this sort of thing! by making a pun about how wine is made).


So anyway, yes @VitaBrevi, you definitely seem to be “determined to be offended” – this is why you went into someone else’s conversation and chose to interpret their use of a phrase in a way which offended you, rather than 1. not paying attention to their conversation 2. not interpreting their joke as diminishing the experience of being raped 3. accepting the words of the several people who pointed out that the joke was about slacktivism, not rape 4. not projecting your outrage on an entire community which has nothing to do with one #hastag chosen by two individuals which didn’t even mean what you decided it meant ¬†…or any other of an infinite other possibilities which didn’t involve you being mortally offended and justifying your outrage at their chosen method of interacting and attacking them (and everyone who defended them).

It is bad enough that reasonable people have to fight against tradition and socially conservative people who want to keep things ‘the way they have always been’ regardless of the fact that things used to be terrible for most people. But it is so incredibly disheartening when we also have to fight against extremist nut jobs who make reasonable objectives look crazy. It just gives the traditionalists and social conservatives material to use to undermine the real movement.


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What Is Skepticism For? The Case for Skeptic Activism against The War on Drugs.

I’ve never been much of a drinker. I didn’t do it at all until late into my 20s, and since then only very rarely have I bothered. I’ve never smoked a cigarette in my life. Drug taking has been almost completely non-existent in my entire life and I spent the first 30 or so years outright denouncing them.

I tell you all of this because I am about to make an argument in defense of drugs and drug users, and it has become standard practice to minimise anyone who defends drugs as a ‘pot head’ or a ‘junkie’ or some other ad hominem attack to save the effort of actually engaging with the arguments. I am no pot head. And I am definitely no junkie.

With that out of the way, I think the War on Drugs, and with it, public perception of drugs + public policy on drugs + media representation of drugs (which is a whirlpool of feedback loops) is just about one of the most harmful things our society does to itself. And I believe that the Skeptic community should take a more active role in fighting against this harm.

Why The Skeptic Community?

It is true that many organisations already exist which are fighting for legalisation, deciminalisation and other reforms on the drug law front, but they are usually fighting on the political level and are also usually ignored by the mainstream (both the media and the public) because “…you know… potheads.” The skeptic community has the advantage of NOT being about drugs, but being about good science. That is what makes this proposition so powerful for undoing this harmful set of laws.

rock fishing is one of the most dangerous sports there isBut why should the skeptic community care? Because my understanding of what the skeptic movement is really about – at its roots – is correcting false beliefs to reduce harms. The objective is to make the world a better place by saving people from themselves. To save people from using useless medical treatments, or to save people from wasting money on useless rituals, treatments or activities.

Skepticism is about destroying false beliefs. And social perception of drugs, thanks to decades of propaganda and manipulation by governments and the media, is so out of line with reality that we are perpetuating incredibly harmful policies out of fear and ignorance when we should be basing our policies on science, knowledge and rationality.

This is what skeptics fight for, and I see no reason why this fight should be any different to any of the others skeptics pick.

Why Drugs? Why Should Skeptics Care About Drug Law?

Skeptics should care about drug laws exactly the same way that skeptics care about vaccination.

Imagine a world where 50 years ago some extreme political party got into power in the USA and decided that vaccination was a dangerous act, and needed to be made illegal. They start massive advertising and propaganda campaigns and convince the majority of the population that vaccination is a dangerous activity for which there is no possible benefit. They highlight every adverse reaction, twist evidence to suit their agenda, and gain a popular support of outlawing vaccination.

vaccination and drugsImagine a modern world where¬†people have to get vaccinated in secret, with vaccines they can’t be sure are what they are meant to be, and with needles which might be reused. Imagine the media¬†covered every single adverse reaction which ever occurred, and talked about people dying and contracting blood born diseases from shared needles, despite the fact that these problems only exist because vaccines are illegal (ie: not a product of the vaccines themselves). While the media is covering every negative aspect of vaccination it is of course only covering 1 in 200 of the complications experienced with alternative medicines. The public is justifiably convinced that alternative medicines like homeopathy and acupuncture are perfectly safe, while vaccination is a high risk treatment which doesn’t¬†offer any benefit to the receiver.

And then someone suggests that maybe the skeptic community – so concerned with saving people from misinformation and scientific manipulations – might want to perhaps argue for the legalisation of vaccination again.

  • “But we don’t deal with that. Lets stick to what we know…”
  • “That is an issue for lawyers and politicians. We are just concerned with pseudoscience and the paranormal”
  • “I just don’t understand why vaccination is something we should care about?”
  • “Research has shown how harmful having backroom vaccinations can be. It is clearly dangerous, you shouldn’t do it, and there is very little science supporting the value of vaccinations! And your conspiratorial talk of government controlling research makes you sound like a nut job.”

This is what I see when I suggest skeptics care about drug laws. Willful avoidance of engagement with the issue, and dismissal of the fact that governments have very clearly controlled the substances (halting scientific research in many ways) while simultaneously funding many studies in order to prove their existing biases. This fact¬†is most strongly highlighted by the fact that David Nutt (winner of the 2013 John Maddox award for defending science) was fired from his government position for reporting that many illegal drugs were far less harmful than the legal drugs, thus the laws should be changed to be more scientifically consistent. The government (usually through ‘drug abuse’ organisations) has been funding ‘drug research’ for decades with the clear intention of finding specific results. For example, the most recent study to get a lot of press because it found ‘abnormalities’ in the brain of ‘casual’ marijuana users, was in part funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse. The press derived from this paper was clearly designed to hype the somewhat biased language used in the paper.

What’s All the Fuss About Anyway? What is the Harm in Protecting People from Drug Abuse?

ecstasy is no more dangerous than horse ridingI’m so glad you asked! Because we all know that drugs are bad and dangerous and harmful right!? Well, yeah, there is some level of truth to that. Like driving cars. Or mountain biking. Or horse riding. Everything in life contains risks and we all have to choose what level of risk we are each willing to accept. When it comes to drugs though, for some reason personal autonomy is not an option.

So yeah, drugs can be harmful, but this is where the science really matters – How harmful are drugs exactly?

This is where David Nutt’s research¬†becomes incredibly important.¬†He was actually trying to answer that question. And when his findings highlighted the inconsistency between the actual risks associated with particular drugs and their legal status, he was fired for¬†actually reporting it as such. Nonetheless, we can still thankfully see the results of his research and see that many drugs are actually less harmful to individuals and society as a whole than the legal drugs and many other activities which no one would ever consider criminalising.

So that is the first point here; our laws do not represent the actual risks involved, and thus the notion that our laws are there to ‘protect people’ are immediately questionable.

But the second point is far more important – these laws are outright harmful.

If someone smokes a joint, it might have negative affects on their brain (an incredibly slight chance) – but if that same person is caught by a police officer with that one joint, it could get them a permanent criminal record which will affect them for the rest of their life. That is real and genuine harm that lowers individuals well being, chance of success and happiness in life.

  • Placing people in prisons for personal choices – that ruins lives.
  • Being able to use drugs as an excuse to disproportionately target one socio-economic or racial group above all others – that is a real harm.
  • Driving an elastic market underground and creating drug cartels who are already on the wrong side of the law, thus have no reason to obey¬†any¬†other laws – that is a real harm.
  • Not providing a safe way to buy chemicals which people continue to buy despite the laws, thus risking overdose or taking poisons instead of the intended substance – that is a real harm.
  • Spending billions of dollars to enforce these laws while making zero actual progress – that is a real harm.

motorcycle racing - more dangerous than most drugsThe costs of the war on drugs, to individuals and to society as a whole is incredible. This is why I believe it is one of the most harmful things our society does to itself.

I am not alone.

The drug reform movement is growing. Breaking the Taboo is a great example of this, with Richard Branson, US Presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter, Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso, and leaders from Colombia, Switzerland, Norway and Mexico all coming out against the war on drugs. Even the Wikipedia page on the War on Drugs paints a bleak picture of that policy. And then you have examples like Portugal, who took steps to decriminalise personal quantities of drugs in 2001 and have had many successes in their experiment.

The war on drugs is winding up, and there is growing support for reformation of drug laws around the world, but it is still taking an incredibly long time. And while this is happening, we have people spending their lives in prison for petty and harmless crimes. And we have people being sentenced to death for drug trafficking. As if that fact wasn’t bad enough, dare to publicly speak up to defend these people about to be murdered by governments on the basis of global propaganda, and people actually defend the governments rights to do it. People respond with “well they knew the chance they were taking when they did it!” Very caring and compassionate that is! I wonder if those same people would be so blase if an extreme Jewish sect started stoning people to death for working on the Sabbath? Or if they defend the rights of extremist Muslim groups who kill women trying to get an education. They all knew the risks they were taking too, surely?

The harms of this global persecution of drug use and drug supply are devastating and inhumane, and they need to end. If we could help speed this process up, and bring drug laws into alignment with the best scientific knowledge, than we can make the world a better place and save many lives.

What Skeptics Can Do

Like most things, it starts with self education. Watch this talk by David Nutt and you will have a much better understanding of the drug-law situation than 99% of the population. If you can, watch Breaking the Taboo too. Understand the manipulations present in past drug research Рfor example, read this comic to see how research has been used to produce desired conclusions and then the correcting studies have been largely ignored. And of course, if you want to know anything about any drug, then Erowid is generally recognised as the most comprehensive and reliable source of information about drugs (and I have been told that Bluelight is great too).

With knowledge on your side, then I think we need to start considering drugs (or drug law? or ‘the science of drug harm’?) to be one of the subjects skeptics care about. We should be inviting people like David Nutt to talk at our conferences. We should be publishing articles about the science of drug harms in our skeptic magazines to help inform more people about the situation. We should be blogging about it. We should be challenging people when they make untrue statements about drug harms.

We have to break through this fear of talking about drugs. We can’t let social pressure and policy pressure stop us from bringing objective scientific information to the public. We have to break out of the propaganda!

Lets make the world a better place and focus our laws on the real criminals Рnot on the people who want to enjoy life in their own way.


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Debating Creationists (Or any other anti-science position)

So Bill Nye just finished debating Ken Ham at the Creation Museum and I actually sat and watched the whole thing live. I have tended to agree with Richard Dawkins about the problems of debating creationists, and the fact that Bill Nye agreed to this intrigued me (since it seems most people agree with Dawkins here, and there have been very few high profile science educators doing these sorts of debates for many years now).

Why We Should Debate Creationists

However, in considering what Nye could do with this debate I started to change my mind. That change was confirmed when I saw the 500,000+ live viewers of the debate on YouTube (and who knows how many more will watch it over the weeks, months and years to come). So apparently there is an appetite for this sort of a debate. Apparently people want to see it. And by agreeing to do these sorts of debates….by going in to the heart of the beast (The CREATION MUSEUM no less), you are getting knowledgeable scientists in front of the very people who most need to hear what they have to say!

Think about that. If Dawkins or Bill Nye went to Tennessee and did a talking tour, would one tenth of that audience have turned up at his lecture? No. But they will turn up to watch their favourite Creationist teach him about the Bible! So this sort of event is a great opportunity for Science educators, what can we do with it?

Don’t Debate – Just Teach

We have the audience we most need to reach, so lets take advantage of that. How do we do that? We focus on teaching them science. Forget the debate. Don’t even bother trying to win it…. just focus on teaching the audience something that they can grasp in the short time you have, and something they will remember. Then keep hammering it home.

And that brings me to the critical part of this article – as much as I love Bill Nye, and appreciate the pressure of performing live in a clearly hostile territory, I found myself mostly disappointed with what he said during the debate. No doubt he did say some great stuff which should have left any creationist stuck for an answer, and hopefully questioning how it is that they believe what they believe, but unfortunately, he also said a lot of things which didn’t do that very well. And the lots of things which weren’t spectacular, can unfortunately drown out the few spectacular things. I know they shouldn’t, but they do. And so the problem is that the audience is quickly distracted away from the strong point which is challenging their beliefs, and they refocus their thought process on this new weaker point which they quickly dismiss because *insert mental gymnastic reason here*.

Watching Bill list of all of the reasons we know the universe is the way it is felt like he just wanted everyone to know all of the knowledge behind all of those facts…but this isn’t how it works. Instead it sounds to the ignorant like Gish Gallop and none of it actually sticks because they don’t really understand what any of it means. It is all just words, until something is actually explained in detail!

There cannot be any assumed knowledge in a debate in the creation museum!

Don’t Skim Many Points. Teach Deeply on Few

I think Bill tried to cover too much ground and didn’t go into nearly enough depth in any of them to actually show how and why they are justified. By skimming across the surface this way, you end up actually coming across to them exactly like they come across to us. “We know radiation exists, therefore we know radiometric dating works, and that is how we date the age of the planet!” sounds as compelling to them as “The Bible tells us God made it” sounds to us. “Radiometric dating tells us” doesn’t actually explain anything…

So, what I really want to encourage future debaters to focus on doing when given this opportunity, is to pick the strongest 2 or 3 pieces of evidence we have for our scientific worldview, quickly put them in context of all of the other pieces of evidence perhaps, but then spend your entire allotted time explaining exactly how it is that we know those 2 or 3 pieces of evidence. TEACH the audience the history of that knowledge. Show them the experiments which verify it. Explain the logic behind it. And then just keep hammering those three points.

If you pick your points well, you can probably structure it so that you can keep coming back to one or the other to address the same questions and claims Creationists will always come up with. Say you pick Limestone creation as one of your points. You can use that (and that alone!) to show how the story of Noah is impossible. And you can use it as corroborating evidence to give us an indication of how old the planet it. And you can use it to show that we know about tectonic plate movement and uplift etc.

Pick a couple of key pieces of knowledge, explain them well, then use only those pieces of knowledge to rebut everything they say, and show how we know what we are talking about. (and of course, occasionally remind them that this is just 3 of hundreds of lines of evidence that we have.)

And if we have more of these debates, and every different debater picks different points to argue from, we might slowly teach the creationists geology, paleontology, astronomy, biology etc…. one subject at a time.


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Vaccinations and Vaccination Information in Australia

Vaccination is one of the most important and valuable medical treatments our civilisation has ever invented. Possibly only second to Antibiotics. Sadly there are a small group of very vocal people who work to cast doubt on the value, safety and efficacy of this incredibly important medical treatment.

But forget about them, because there is a lot of good information out there, you just need to know where to look. Here are a few websites I recommend starting at:

  1. http://www.vaccination.org.au/
  2. http://www.immunise.health.gov.au/
  3. http://www.health.wa.gov.au/flu/vaccination/index.cfm

And also take the time to check out the Stop the Australian Vaccination Network page, to highlight the lies, hypocrisy and dangers that the Australian Vaccination Network pose on Australian citizens.

Vaccination is important. It saves lives. And if you can get vaccinated, you should, for the people who can’t. The immuno-compromised¬† the frail, and the vulnerable.

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Delivering Cuteness to soften the blow of correction

rbutr has just made a new change to its methods. It now displays a picture of a random cute animal for 3 seconds before taking users to the rebuttal they have requested. There is even scientific reasoning behind this change!

Read the blog article announcement here: Read Rebuttals, Get Kittens

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